She struggled, over the next few days, to develop a routine. She was determined to keep busy and not dwell on her losses. It wasn't easy. As Mike had pointed out that first morning, she could tolerate only so much reading, so much listening to music. As much as her loved ones, she found she missed the busyness of her life, the always having a task waiting to be done. Here, she could clean her small room in a half-hour if she dawdled; the bathroom might take another half-hour if she took pains to scrub the tub and its surrounding tile.
She found the facility's small gymnasium on her second day. Twenty minutes on the stationary bike left her glowing and breathless, but the exercise felt good, and she resolved to make it part of her routine.
Diandra Shaw and Malcolm Harris returned twice that first week to question her further, or have her elaborate on points already made. The case against Gabriel was going to be difficult to prove, and the investigation was proceeding slowly. They didn't, Diandra explained, want to blunder about and tip him off. Catherine suspected that by now he already knew, and more, that he knew she was behind it. She could hope, though, that he didn't know yet where she was. She prayed that when he found out, he wouldn't be able to reach her.
She wore Vincent's pouch around her neck, as he had done, although she kept it tucked under her clothing. Wearing it openly would only attract curiosity and she wasn't inclined to explain it. It moved when she did, and its occasional subtle pressure against her skin never failed to remind her she was loved.
The first week ended, and a second one began. Midway through it, the small hope Catherine had been nurturing, the one that had been providing her with strength, perished. There would be no second child. Not now.
She spent the rest of that day in bed, alternately crying and staring at the ceiling. She hadn't known how much she had wanted to be pregnant. She marshalled reasoned arguments during her lucid periods, reminding herself of how much she longed to share a pregnancy with Vincent and of how ill-suited the security facility was for either prenatal care or childbirth. None of it helped.
She didn't bother with dinner, and at length fell into an exhausted sleep.
She woke to a bright blue sky and streaming sunshine that seemed to mock her grief. She lay in bed, staring listlessly at a blank portion of wall, lacking both the strength and the inclination to get up.
After a while, someone knocked on her door. "Cathy?" She could hear Mike's tense, worried voice, but couldn't summon a response. After a while he went away. She pulled the blankets over her shoulders and closed her eyes, hoping to drift back into painless sleep.
"Cathy! Catherine!" Renewed banging on her door woke her from hazy half-sleep. The voice wasn't Mike's this time, and it took her a moment to place it. Arlen Miller.
She pulled the covers higher and tried to burrow back into sleep. The telephone began to shrill.
"Cathy!" Someone else shouted outside her door. "Answer the phone!"
Instead, she rolled over, plucked the noisy instrument from her nightstand, and threw it against the wall. It gave a last, startled squawk and lapsed into silence.
"Well," Arlen said, her voice clearly audible through the door. "We know she's alive."
The small tantrum had disturbed the layer of apathy, and now that she was roused, inbred good manners wouldn't allow her to further distress those assigned to protect her. She stumbled up and pulled the door open a few inches.
"What is it?" she asked, her voice brusque.
"No one's seen you since yesterday at noon," Arlen said. "We were concerned. Are you ill?"
"I'm fine. Just tired." Catherine slouched against the doorframe and tried to quench the resentment she felt.
"I see." Arlen glanced past her at the unmade bed. "May I come in?"
Something thin and vibrating snapped inside her. "No! I don't want you to come in! I don't want you here asking questions! I want you to leave me alone!"
If she'd expected Arlen to recoil, she was disappointed. Arlen merely raised her eyebrows a fraction, then inclined her head in a gracious movement that Vincent could have made. "Very well," she said, acceding. "I'll have meals brought to you in case you get hungry. And of course, you can call if you need something." Amusement flashed in her eyes. "If you haven't broken the telephone, that is."
The phone, when Catherine picked it up, was undamaged. It had stopped ringing, apparently, only because it was off the hook. She replaced it on the nightstand and then, after a moment's thought, unplugged it. She could plug it back in if she needed to.
Her body's needs forced her into the bathroom, but afterwards, she came back and collapsed on the bed. A little later, she heard the rattle of glassware and cutlery, and Mike tapped on her door to announce he'd brought lunch and would leave it outside. She didn't bring it in. She wasn't hungry, and if she wasn't pregnant, there was no reason to eat. She similarly ignored the dinner tray brought by one of the evening guards, and lay instead watching the sky turn pink and mauve and purple with the oncoming night.
She hated being here. She hated being away from Nicholas, of knowing he was growing and changing without her. She wanted to be with him and with Vincent, loving them and being loved. She wanted to help William with dinner, and meet with her class. She wanted to visit with Natalie over a cup of coffee, or browse through Father's library in search of just the right book. She wanted to wear her own clothes, topside or tunnelwear, not these formless, colorless one-size-fits-all sweatclothes. She wanted to tuck Nicholas into bed, or kiss Vincent with all the passion she'd repressed for so long. And most of all, she wanted to be out of here!
Reciting the litany of grievances started the tears flowing again, and she didn't try to stop them. Once again, she cried herself to sleep.
No one disturbed her the next day. She got up once and brought in a tray one of the guards had left outside her door, but lost her appetite after only a few mouthfuls of food. The rest of the time, she huddled under the blankets on her bed.
Arlen came again on the afternoon of the third day. "Cathy?" she called through the locked door. "Are you all right?"
Catherine pressed her lips together and stared stolidly at the wall.
Outside the door, Arlen gave an audible sigh. "Fine. I have an envelope for you. I'll leave it out here."
Catherine waited until she was sure Arlen was gone, then rolled off the bed and went to fetch her letter. The envelope was square and brown, rather than slim and white as she'd expected, and she hesitated a moment before picking it up.
Her name was inscribed across the front in Vincent's bold hand. Fresh tears coursed down her face, and she pressed the envelope to her breast.
Only when she had stopped crying did she tear open the flap. A small book, covered in smooth brown leather, slid out. Catherine flipped carelessly through the pages; all were blank. She picked up the folded sheet of paper that accompanied it.
My Catherine, the letter began. Your unhappiness reaches me clearly, and I want so much to come to you. Since I cannot, I send you instead this small gift. I have always found comfort in recording my deepest sorrows and darkest despairs in my journal. May you find the same comfort in writing of the things that make you so unhappy.
Nicholas is well. It's difficult to believe, but I think he's grown taller just in the short time you've been away from us. We've spent the evening practicing counting. He knows the names of the numbers from one to ten, and we're working on the concept of "how many." He learns quickly.
There are so many young children, Mary's started a preschool. They sing songs and draw pictures. Nicholas loves it. Today, Mary and Brooke traced the children's hands on a sheet of paper as a remembrance for their parents. I'm assured that in years to come, we'll be amazed at how small they are.
We miss you, Catherine, as much as you miss us. You must be strong and must not allow this despair to overcome you. Know, as I do, that you are doing what you must. Know, too, that I am with you always, in spirit. And that I love you.
It was signed with the usual V.
The second sheet bore the blue crayoned outline of a pair of small hands. Catherine sniffled and reached for a tissue to blow her nose, then settled in to examine each finger, the thumbs, the delicate line of the wrists.
For the first time in four days, she made an effort to picture Nicholas, and managed to conjure an image of him kneeling in a chair, pressing his hands down and giggling as a fat blue crayon wound through his fingers. And the image made her smile.
She still had no appetite, but made herself eat dinner that night. Afterwards, she took a shower, donned fresh clothing, and changed the sheets on her bed. When that was done, she dusted and vacuumed. Only when both she and the room were fresh did she settle down with the little book.
She hesitated a long time before she began. She'd never kept a journal, and somehow the notion of writing to herself wasn't appealing. Finally she touched her pen to the first pristine page.
Dear Vincent. I know I can't send this, but I'm writing to you anyway. Writing to myself seems silly; I already know what's happening to me. But perhaps telling you will help me put it all into perspective.
I miss you so much. It's a dull, terrible ache inside me all the time. I almost gave up this week, Vincent. I almost decided, deep inside myself, that if I couldn't be with you, be with Nicky, then I didn't want to be anywhere. That scares me. If my hold on myself is so tenuous, then what is to become of me in the long months ahead?
I know I must be strong. And I will try, Vincent. I really will. So that later, when it's all over, I can come home.
At night, I dream of being in your arms, and while I'm there, I'm safe. I see what's wrong with the dream, now, though. I can't depend on you to keep me safe. I have to do that for myself.
I can do it, Vincent. I can be as strong as I have to be. And someday I'll come home.
She forced herself out of bed the next morning, determined to reclaim the routine she'd developed that first week. After a light breakfast and a half hour's reading, she took herself to the gym for a workout. Twenty minutes on the treadmill warmed her muscles and lifted her spirits. Encouraged, she stepped onto a floor mat to practice some of the moves Isaac had so carefully taught her.
She spun sharply. She hadn't heard anyone approach.
Mike lounged in the gym door, a mocking grin on his face. "You don't really think that'll work against the kind of weapons a man'd have to have to get up here, do you?"
His body language was so completely non-threatening that Catherine gave a sheepish smile. "Not really," she admitted. "Never can tell when you'll have to fend off an insolent guard, though."
His grin widened. "Point taken." He peeled himself from the doorframe, kicked off his shoes, and stepped onto the mat.
Catherine stepped back warily. It occurred to her that what she'd learned from Isaac probably wouldn't be much use against someone with Mike's training; for a wild instant she wondered if he could break her neck and pass it off as an accident.
He stood perfectly still until she let out her breath and allowed some of the tension to bleed away. "What do you do," he asked then, a bit too casually, "if somebody grabs you like this?"
At the last word, he lunged. Catherine countered the move neatly, delivering a stinging blow to his head in the process.
"Ow!" he yelled, going to his knees.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, bending to look. "Did I hurt you?"
He swung his arm in a hard arc that would have caught her across the knees if he hadn't pulled the blow at the last instant. "Word of advice," he said evenly. "Never let down your guard."
Catherine stepped back and nodded. "You're right. I won't again."
He grinned and got to his feet. "Nice move. You had a good teacher."
"Isaac Stubbs," she told him.
His eyes lit. "Isaac? I know him. How's he doing these days?"
Catherine shrugged. "I haven't seen him recently."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. You still interested in learning self-defense?"
"I'll bet I know some moves old Isaac never taught you. Plus I'll bet you're rusty."
"You'd win the second bet," Catherine agreed, laughing.
"Win the first one, too," Mike said, with confidence. "You want some lessons?"
She eyed him with interest and came to a quick decision,
guided more by instinct than by logic. "Sure."
His broad grin widened. "Great. You'll liven up my mornings."
After that, he came by for a half hour or so every morning, usually timing his arrival for the end of the aerobics workout - on a treadmill, stair stepper, or stationary bike - with which she began her gym time.
Most of his workouts left her breathless and dripping with perspiration.
"You know what, Chandler?" he asked one day.
She paused in the act of swabbing perspiration off the back of her neck with a towel. "What?"
"You need more upper body strength."
She glanced down at herself, damp and glowing in tank top and sweatpants. "What do you mean?"
He took a pinch of her upper arm between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed gently. "Here. There's no muscle."
"Got to be some muscle or I wouldn't be able to move my arms," she countered and reached for the Evian water on a nearby bench. "What's your point?"
A speculative gleam came into his eye and she leaned away from him.
"What?" she repeated suspiciously.
"You ever lifted weights?"
"Not particularly," she answered. "I don't think the Schwarzenegger look is for me."
"No, no. Nothing that intensive. Just a little lifting to tone your upper body. What do you say?"
She gave a wary glance at the weight bench lurking in the corner. "Well, I guess," she said reluctantly. "I can try it."
"Great!" He clapped his hands together with enthusiasm. "Come on over here."
"Now?" she asked, half in surprise, half in protest. "I'm tired."
"Your arms aren't tired," he countered. "You didn't do anything with them. Get over here."
Reluctantly she put down her water and crossed to the bench. "What do I do?"
"First, watch me," he instructed. "We'll do chest and back today. Arms and shoulders tomorrow. Oh, and abs. Can't forget those."
She was afraid to ask, so she didn't. Instead, she watched him pick up a pair of moderately sized dumbbells, one in each hand, and then lie down on his back on the narrow padded bench. "These are called dumbbell flies," he told her. "Some people call them flat flies. They work your pecs. Those are the muscles across your chest. Watch."
He lifted the weights until his arms were extended above his chest. He slowly spread his arms to horizontal before bringing them back up. He sat up. "See? Nothing to it. You try."
He cleared the bench and she took his place, straddling it reluctantly.
"Not these," he said, when she reached for his weights. "These are thirty pounds each. You'd lose control halfway down and hurt yourself. Use these." He replaced the weights he'd used with smaller ones. "Eight pounds each."
They felt laughably light when she hefted them. "Are you making fun of me?"
"Absolutely not," he assured her solemnly. "You try those, and if they're too light we'll go to ten pounders. But I think you'll find the exercise is more difficult than you think."
She resisted the impulse to snort and instead lay back on the bench, centering herself carefully as Mike had done. "Now what?"
"Bring the weights up over your chest," he instructed. "Don't lock your elbows. Pretend you're hugging a tree."
She did as he told her, and waited while he inspected her position.
"Now lower your arms slowly. Keep your elbows loose. Feel the strain in your chest?"
She really didn't but she nodded anyway.
"Breathe in rhythm with your lifting," he advised. "Do at least eight reps - that's repetitions - without stopping. Ten if you can."
She nodded and started on her second rep. By the sixth, she was feeling the strain.
"Slowly," he cautioned as she tried to hurry through the seventh rep. "It's the resistance that gives the benefit."
She finished eight and glanced Mike's way.
"Two more," he encouraged. "You can do it."
She did one more. The muscles in her chest and arms started to quiver.
"Come on," he said, goading. "Don't be a wimp."
"Huh!" She expelled her breath with a derisive grunt and lowered the weights one last time, panting to counteract the strain. With an effort, she brought the weights back up and then lowered them triumphantly to her chest. "Did it!" she crowed.
"Good," he said. "Rest for a minute, then do ten more."
"What?" She glared at him.
"Two sets of each exercise, to begin," he said. "Later, we'll work up to three or four."
"Three or four?" she repeated in disbelief. "I'll die."
"No, you won't," he disagreed cheerfully. "You'll get stronger. Now lie down and give me ten more reps."
She could only manage nine before her arms wobbled alarmingly. Mike snatched the weights from her hands before she dropped them. "Wore those muscles out, huh?" he asked. "No problem. We'll do some back work, then come back to the chest. Here, let me show you..."
He made her work what he called her "lats", which, she gathered, were the muscles on either side of her spine. And when those muscles were too tired for further work, he had her do some bench presses to further work her pecs.
By the time he finished, Catherine was exhausted. She oozed back to her room, where she took a long, hot shower and tumbled into bed. A nap refreshed her, however, and she woke in time to write in her journal to Vincent.
This had become a daily habit. They were long letters, full of her thoughts and wishes, both for the present and for their future. She asked after Nicholas, and told how much she missed them both, and somehow, the pouring out of words onto the pages lightened her heart.
Mike's talked me into weight-lifting, she wrote today. He says it will make me stronger. Next time you see me, we can arm wrestle.
She meant it as a light-hearted tweak at his habitual solemnity, but once written, she found the words had the power to affect her, as well.
Next time you see me.
It was something she tried not to think about too much. Next time he saw her. Next time she saw him. Saw Nicholas. Because it was a time that, if she examined it closely, might prove to be an impossible distance away.
The next morning, the muscles of her chest and back were so sore she could hardly roll out of bed. A hot shower helped a little, but it was sheer stubbornness that made her show up in the gym for her workout.
To her surprise, Mike was already there, pumping away on the stationary bike. "Warm up," he said, his breathing even despite the sheen of perspiration on his bared arms and neck. "Little treadmill, maybe?"
His cheerfulness grated. She glowered at him and went to the stair stepper instead.
Mike grinned. "Whatever," he said agreeably. "Twenty minutes, okay? Then we'll try some more weights."
"What, no mat work?" she asked, the rhythm of her words matching the pumping of her legs.
"Can you lift your arms?" he countered, still grinning.
She tested them and winced. "Not very well," she admitted.
"So no mat work. A couple days off won't kill you. If you'll excuse the expression," he added hastily at her pointed look. "Let's get you used to the weights."
When she finished on the stair stepper, he helped her stretch and loosen her upper body so her chest and back didn't feel so sore, then coached her through a series of exercises designed to strengthen her arms and shoulders.
"Biceps," she grunted through clenched teeth as she struggled to finish a set of ten curls. "Who'd have thought I'd ever need biceps?"
Mike regarded her mildly. "Shut up and breathe."
The workouts helped her sleep at night and even gave her something to look forward to each morning. The soreness in her muscles went away, and soon she was lifting heavier weights with less effort. New lines of muscle appeared in her shoulders and arms and she could feel them across her back. It didn't make her strong enough to overcome a male assailant, but it made her feel good about herself and that made all the effort worthwhile.
Her afternoons varied. She devoted a great deal of time to tracking the progress of the cases against both John Moreno and the man she now knew as Gabriel Vandt.
Moreno had been arrested on the basis of Catherine's affidavit bringing charges against him and had already been indicted; the evidence against him was clear. Simply knowing he had been corrupted made the investigators take a hard look at incidents in his past, and once they knew what to look for, it was easy to see the pattern of corruption; key prosecutions bungled because the wrong personnel was assigned, plea bargains that should never have been made. Because Moreno had been a strong and forceful D.A. when it came to more common criminals, no one had noticed.
The case against Gabriel proceeded more slowly. Investigators were having trouble tying him to any wrongdoing. A search of the building where Catherine had been held for those many months had turned up none of the things she remembered; everything - the banks of video monitors, the cameras, the sophisticated medical equipment, even the small, sterile white room - was gone. The upper floors, like the lower ones, were filled with offices, and no trace of her imprisonment remained. Catherine sometimes suspected that if it weren't for her zealous insistence, the official investigators might be tempted to give it up.
She asked for copies of Gabriel's financial records and pored over them, but he laundered his funds well. Like the official investigators, she could find no trace of illegal activity. She spent hours, as well, forcing herself to relive every moment of the time she'd spent as his prisoner, searching her memory with painstaking care for anything that might prove useful.
What they really needed was the black book; at odd moments, Catherine wondered fiercely what Elliot had done with it.
Odd moments were rare, though. Catherine worked hard to fill her time and keep her spirits high. She kept her living space clean, although since she was by nature a tidy person, that never took long. She made frequent forays to the library for books and videos. She listened to the radio, especially some of the late night talk shows, and on occasion she even watched TV.
She was on the floor of her room one afternoon, surrounded by a hodge-podge of poetry anthologies. A few scattered lines of poetry had been running through her head and her inability to identify them was aggravating. She wished Vincent were here; he'd probably recognize the lines instantly.
She closed her eyes and let the remembered lines play again. The rhythm seemed familiar. Frost, maybe? Or Conrad Aiken? An American poet, surely. A knock on the door roused her.
"What?" she demanded. The interruption made her surly.
"Good afternoon to you, too," Arlen replied. She stood in the open doorway, smiling.
Catherine bounced up from the floor.
"Sorry," she said, a bit sheepishly. "I was thinking."
"I could see that," Arlen agreed. "What happened to your door?"
Catherine glanced at it. "Nothing. Why?"
"It was open. I thought you kept it locked."
"Oh, that. I used to. I still do, when I'm not here. But there's only Malek, and the guards. The prisoners are kept at the other end of the building and can't go anywhere unescorted. I guess I feel safer now."
"I'm glad," Arlen said. "It will be easier for you if you're comfortable here."
"But always remember there is a reason to be cautious."
Catherine absorbed that, and nodded slowly. "I will."
"Here." Arlen held out a fat brown envelope. "I have something for you."
Catherine accepted the envelope eagerly. "Thank you." She grinned. "You really enjoy delivering these, don't you? It's almost the only time we see you. When you have something for me, or for Malek."
"Seeing your faces when you receive letters or packages from home reminds me of who you are, and how necessary it is to keep you safe," Arlen said pragmatically. Then she smiled. "And yes, I do like bringing your mail. Enjoy."
"I will," Catherine said fervently.
For letters, she wanted privacy. After Arlen was gone, she pushed the door closed and turned the deadbolt. Her fingers were tearing at the glued flap of the envelope even before she sat down.
Always, when she received a package, there was a letter from Vincent, but others of her tunnel family took turns writing. Today she had letters from Geoffrey, Father, Natalie, and Zach. There were also sheets of lined notebook paper, each with a paragraph or two in laborious block printing; apparently writing her had been a school assignment for the primary grade children. On the bottom lay a handful of primitive crayon drawings, an offering, it seemed, from the nursery school set.
She laid everything out in separate piles, smiled in eager anticipation, and picked up a letter.
Dear Catherine, Geoffrey wrote. Mary says we should all try to write to you once in a while so you don't get too lonely, or miss us too much. I'm not sure that makes sense, though. If I was up there all by myself, I don't think I could keep from being lonely, or missing the people here. But I know letters would help, so I'm writing this.
I'm a sentry now. My post is up near Broadway. It's kind of boring, just sitting and watching through a little hole, and so far, nobody's come by while I was on watch except Vincent a couple of times, but I know it's important work and I have to be alert for when someone does come.
In science, we're studying anatomy...
He went on for another page and a half, updating her on his life with such painstaking detail that she could almost imagine she was there with him, dissecting a frog under Father's exacting eye, or stumbling in the kitchen and spilling an entire pot of soup across William's freshly scrubbed floor.
Zach's letter was similar, although his also confided he was courting the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Helper. I don't know if we can make it work, he wrote. She wants to go to college and become a veterinarian; I've spent years training in the Pipe Chamber and I know Pascal expects me to be his successor. And besides, this is my home. But then I remember you and Vincent and how you were before. And I figure if you could do it, with one of you living above and the other one here below, then maybe we can, too.
She wondered if Zach had any idea how few her moments with Vincent had really been, or the difficulties they'd faced, especially during the last months before her kidnapping when she'd ached for him, longing almost constantly for the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand, the wonderful light in his eyes when he looked at her. She hoped Zach and his Ariel could find an easier path.
Father's letter was predictable, but she devoured every word. He spoke of plans to extend a tunnel near the Mirror Pool, and the construction of a chute from a storeroom near the surface to another such room near the kitchen. To facilitate the moving of non-fragile foodstuffs, he said. He talked of the latest illness - a mild cold virus - making the rounds of the tunnel community, and then hastened to assure her that Vincent and Nicholas were both well. Vincent misses you very much, he said finally. Not a day goes by that he does not speak of you. He's brought out the portrait Kristopher Gentian made of the two of you and hung it in his chamber. For Nicholas, he says, but I know better. More than once I've found him staring at it, and I know he's not looking at himself. Take care of yourself, dearest Catherine, so you can return to him safely.
She couldn't resist a small smile as she laid the letter down. As always, Father's foremost concern was for Vincent, although she suspected he'd be appalled and utterly embarrassed to know how clearly it showed in his letter. She didn't blame him, though. With a son of her own to love and protect, she now understood Father all too well.
Natalie's letter was a lively contrast to Geoffrey's and Zach's dutiful missives and Father's slightly pompous dissertation. Like Natalie herself, the letter was breezy and upbeat.
Hi, Catherine, she began. Nicholas is here, playing with Brian. He's doing great. He's grown at least an inch since you've seen him and he's losing some of that baby pudginess. He's decided he wants long hair like Vincent. It's too short to tie back and it won't stay combed, so I'm tempted to take the scissors to it, but Vincent's allowing him to grow it out.
Catherine paused and tried to imagine Nicholas taller, thinner, and with a shaggy mane to his shoulders. She couldn't quite picture it, but memories of working a comb through his wild tangle of hair when it was short made her almost glad she wasn't the one dealing with it now.
Vincent's okay, too, Natalie's letter went on. He misses you - you can see it in his eyes when he talks about you - but he's handling it. Nicholas being here helps.
He's a terrific father, Catherine. I suppose you know this from watching him with Nicholas before you left, but the rest of us are seeing it now. They're together constantly when Vincent isn't needed elsewhere; Pascal even caught them running a footrace in the long tunnel between the dining chamber and the pipe chamber. Nicholas won.
Catherine could picture it: Nicholas pelting pellmell down the wide passage, no doubt giggling all the way, while Vincent, his pace carefully gauged to Nicholas's, made a good show of being outrun. Natalie's letters were always wonderfully vivid and evocative.
She read the children's letters next. Dear Catherine, How are you, I am fine, was the general message in all of them, but many of the letters were also illustrated. Catherine took particular pleasure in an intricate flower border around one girl's letter, and the interestingly tinted animals cavorting along the bottom of a boy's - especially the purple bear.
She laid the letters aside and reached for the crayoned drawings. Laboriously block-printed across the top of the first sheet, in bright pink crayon, were the words, "My Famly." Underneath this caption stood a pair of stick figures, one short and one tall. Both had flowing yellow hair and blue smears of color where their eyes should be. The name at the bottom, printed carefully in green, said "Cathy." That would be Lena's little daughter.
The second drawing had the same heading in blue, spelled correctly this time. It showed a tall figure with short brown hair, a slightly shorter figure wearing a lumpy brown dress and holding a blob of blue and pink, and the shortest figure of all standing in the middle. The name on this one was Luke, which made it easy for Catherine to identify Kanin, Olivia, and their new baby Jonathan.
The third picture had no heading, but the name, scrawled untidily in brown, said "NICH," and she bit her lip. She'd taught him to make an N herself, and for a long time he'd thought any word beginning with that letter must be his name. Someone must have been working with him, showing him how to form the other letters. She wondered if the abbreviated form was because he hadn't learned the rest of the letters yet, or if it just meant the person helping him didn't know the proper spelling of the diminutive. But it didn't matter. It was enough to think that perhaps as recently as yesterday, he'd touched this paper.
She could almost see it, Nicholas bent forward over the paper, holding it down with a forearm, tongue thrust between his teeth as he carefully made marks with the crayon clutched in the fingers of his other hand. His left hand, that would be. Children weren't supposed to prefer one hand over the other until their second year, but Nicholas had apparently never read that part of the baby book. He'd been decidedly left-handed since he was old enough to reach for things.
Through misty eyes, she examined his drawing. It contained three figures. The tallest one was mostly a black blob, topped with a mass of yellow that spilled down over the black. The smallest figure, also sporting a profusion of yellow hair, was placed close by, with lines running from the upper quadrant of the tall figure to the same area on the smaller one. It took her a moment to decide they were supposed to be holding hands. Another figure flanked the little one. It wore mostly brown, and the abbreviated mass at the top that was meant to be hair was the same color. A black line ran from the figure's midsection to the ground. Catherine stared at it for a long time before she figured it out. The line was a cane. The figure was Father.
She tried to tell herself he'd drawn a picture of the family he lived with; that definition would naturally exclude her. But she couldn't persuade herself to believe it.
It was a long time before she could bring herself to pick up Vincent's letter. As usual, it was caring and thoughtful; he made no mention of Nicholas's omission.
My Catherine, he began as always. It is late. Nicholas is asleep, and I should be, but I cannot rest. I left our son in Father's care this evening and went above. I thought the night air might clear my head. It rained earlier in the day, and the air was fresh and carried the scent of damp earth. There's a building quite near the one in which you are living. I go there, sometimes, and gaze across the open space at the lighted windows, wondering which one is yours and hoping I might catch a glimpse of you.
She stopped reading long enough to cast an involuntary, startled glance at the wide window.
It is a useless gesture, I know, and yet there are nights when I cannot help myself. I tell myself I wish to be nearby in case you should need me, but the truth is, if I cannot be with you, I want to be close to you. Somehow, an hour or two on this nearby rooftop soothes the endless ache in my heart.
Our son is well. He grows so quickly that sometimes I imagine I can see him getting taller. Natalie is teaching him to write his name, and he tells me that when he's mastered "Nicholas," he wishes to learn to spell "Daddy."
There are no words to tell you how I treasure knowing him, Catherine, and the miracle that he is.
Keep safe and well, and return to us soon.
That night, in defiance of warnings not to expose herself needlessly, she spent a long time at the window, staring out at the blackness.